Someone you know and hold dear is grieving the loss of a loved one.
You see them suffering and feel their pain. Your heart goes out to them and you’re desperate to help. But what can you say to offer comfort amid such sorrow? What combination of words could you muster that’d make a difference?
Alas, knowing what to say when someone dies is rarely straightforward. Whether the bereaved individual is a close friend, a family member, or a colleague you barely know, it’s natural to feel tongue-tied; to scramble for something to say that’s in keeping with the gravity of the situation and won’t cause inadvertent offense.
The good news is that the right words are never far away! To help you find them, we’ve put together a guide full of useful tips and ideas on the topic. Let’s dive in.
How to Express Your Condolences
In some ways, what you say is less important than how you say it.
As a result, a simple, heartfelt message is far better than an empty string of fancy words. Even something downright Shakespearean is unlikely to go down well in the absence of genuine warmth and sympathy!
So don’t worry about finding the “right words”. You’ll never take someone’s pain away, which means there’s nothing to be gained from trying. In fact, the pressure many people feel in these situations can backfire. It makes them uncomfortable, nervous, and awkward, which is a recipe for saying something inappropriate.
The main thing is to show you care, without making it about you or droning on for too long. That last point is key! After all, the bereaved are usually inundated with messages, calls, and offers of support; sentiments that are short and sweet are less overwhelming and put people under less stress to respond.
In terms of specific short condolence messages to say when someone dies, you could:
- Let them know you’re thinking about them
- Tell them they’re in your prayers – especially if they’re religious
- Express your sincere concern/condolences/sympathies
- Offer to run errands or help out if they ever want/need anything
- Let them know you’re there for them
- Acknowledge the magnitude of their loss
- Check-in and ask how they’re doing
- Offer simple and positive reflections on the deceased
What to Avoid When Expressing Your Condolences
Knowing what not to say can be just as helpful in these difficult conversations. We’ve already addressed the need to be brief, sincere, and to focus on the bereaved (vs yourself), but here are some specific statements and sentiments to avoid as well:
1. “I know how you feel.”
It’s natural to want to empathize with the person in front of you. But remember to keep the focus on them. Likewise, everyone experiences grief differently, so you may not actually know what they’re going through.
2. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Try not to offer any sort of explanation or justification for why someone passed away. It’s usually better to be there, listen, and explain how much you care for them. Furthermore, this statement’s arguably too clichéd to make a dent in their grief.
3. “Be strong. You’ll move on in time.”
Let people know that it’s okay to feel whatever they’re feeling. Being told to be/stay strong suggests the opposite: that tears and sorrow should be suppressed. As for the bit about moving on in time, they may not be in the right head space to hear that yet. They don’t want to move on – they want their loved one back.
4. “At least they’re in a better place now.”
Try to avoid statements with which the person in mourning might disagree. Likewise, while this sentiment might seem encouraging at face value, it’s almost impossible to find a silver lining when you’ve just lost someone.
5. “Don’t cry. It’ll all be alright.”
Once again, there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. If they’re crying, then that’s more than okay. It’s human, natural, and an honest display of their sadness – something that should be encouraged.
20 Examples of What to Say When Someone Dies
Here are some warm, thoughtful, and comforting things you could say to someone in mourning. Before we get to them, though, keep in mind that the words you use should vary depending on:
- The relationship between the bereaved person and the deceased and
- Your relationship with the person who’s grieving
For example, what you’d say to comfort your spouse who just lost a parent should sound very different from what you’d say to a client whose dog just died.
Everything from the tone to the content of your statement(s) should reflect the context of the situation. This is important because the coming section is full of general words of condolence! Use them as you wish, but consider adjusting the sentiments to suit your particular needs instead of copying them word for word.
- [Insert name] was such a lovely, lovely person. I’m so sorry for your loss. You’re in my thoughts and prayers and I’m here for you if there’s ever anything you need.
- I can’t find the words to tell you just how sorry I am for your loss. Anything you need, I’m here. Just let me know.
- [Insert name] was such an amazing role model for us. They brought such joy to everyone they met. We’ll miss them so much.
- I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. If you ever want to talk about it, just say. I’m only ever a phone call away.
- My heart goes out to you at this most difficult time. I’m thinking of you.
- You’re very much on all of our minds and in our prayers right now, [insert name of bereaved]. Can I do anything? Just let me know and I’ll be there.
- My deepest, deepest sympathies, [insert name of bereaved]. We’ll all miss [Insert name] tremendously, so we can’t imagine what you must be going through. Sending you love and strength. If you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.
- We’re all thinking of you. We all love you. We’re all here for you.
- I don’t know what to say. But if you ever want to talk or need someone to listen – or a shoulder to cry on – I’m here.
- I’ve been thinking of you so much and just wanted you to know I’m here for you. How are you doing?
- There’s nothing I can say to make this any better, but please know that I care, I love you, and I’m here to help however I can.
- I count myself exceptionally lucky to have known [Insert name]. What a ray of light they were. If you need anything, just say. I’m here for you.
- I don’t know how you must be feeling and I don’t really know what to say. What I do know is that you’re in my thoughts and that I’ll do anything I can to help.
- How are you getting on? You don’t have to answer. Just know that I’m here.
- Oh my love, I just heard the news. I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. I know I can’t do anything to make it better right now, but know that I’m always here for you.
- I can’t imagine how difficult this must be, but I won’t pretend to know how you’re feeling. If you ever want to talk, though, I’m never far away.
- I didn’t know them well, but [Insert name] left such an impression on me in the few times we hung out. They seemed like such a genuine, lovely person. My sincere condolences for your loss.
- I’m so sorry to hear that your [insert relation] died recently. How are you holding up? I’m always here for a chat if it’d help.
- I just heard what happened and am so so sorry. We all love you and are here if you need anything. You’re in my prayers.
- Hey [insert name of bereaved]. I heard the news and wondered if you wanted someone to make you dinner tonight? I can bring something over if you like? Don’t worry if not. I’m here for you if you need anything.
What to Say When Someone Dies: Sending Your Best
These conversations are seldom easy to navigate; the right words rarely straightforward to find. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a wordsmith, eternal optimist or a poet to show support to someone who’s grieving. As we’ve seen, the warmest and most encouraging words of condolence are often the simplest.
Speak from the heart, and whoever you know who has lost someone is sure to appreciate your condolences.
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